Thursday, September 15, 2011

Sharolyn Gabbitas: 1977 - 2011

I remember five years ago, moving into my new condo in Provo and going to my new ward. It was in the same stake as I had been for three years already, but the prospect of meeting all new people and figuring out the ward situation is always a daunting one. My sisters and I walked into Relief Society and did the usual introductions.

"Hi, I'm Annie...I just moved from the 223rd ward."

It was at that moment the Relief Society president chimed in, "We've heard good things about you... And we're so excited to have you here!" I was stunned but not surprised that my former bishop had been touting my talents; however, I didn't think I warranted such a warm and gushy welcome.

It's funny how you remember little things like that when one of your friends passes away...

Last year, Sharolyn (the ever-cheerful, aforementioned Relief Society president) was diagnosed with bone cancer. Having overcome cancer earlier in her life, she set out resolutely to beat this and show it who was boss. That's who she was: BOSS. Anything in life that was thrown at her, and she was the one to take it by the horns and make it fun to boot.

Two days ago, after a long and painful struggle, the cancer won. No, actually I don't think it won outright...she had a few good rounds in the ring with it, always coming out swinging at the starting bell. But at the age of 34, she finally succumbed to the hugely debilitating illness and said goodbye to this earthly life and its trials.

But this isn't about her death. Death is inevitable for each of us. Her life, woven briefly through mine, is what really made the difference. We were almost instant friends (a fact I saw wasn't just true for me), and she continually impressed me.

Here are the things I love about Sharolyn:
  • She played the piano beautifully. Seriously, it put most people to shame--including me...I thought--but she was so forgiving when it came time for me to accompany her (beautiful singing voice!) and I stumbled through the pieces. Not just forgiving--incredibly complimentary and gracious.
  • Her generosity was enormous. The historical Provo home she owned was often opened up for ward events, birthday parties, practicing sessions, or to friends who needed an emotional boon. Honestly, it wasn't just her home that was opened...her heart was what made that place one of refuge.
  • Sharolyn was hilarious. And so real. I remember a few times just chatting with her and laughing because she would say things like, "I probably shouldn't say that about people...." It was so good to know that she wasn't perfect and that sometimes we could commiserate about the silliness of things.
Honestly, how do you distill a person's life into bullet points? ...It almost seems so ridiculously trivial. I'm glad I'm not the one writing her obituary.

The two of us must have been in cahoots about something...

Singing as a group at a birthday party...not an uncommon occurrence. (Ray, if you're reading this and still have the video that's up on Facebook of us singing Island in the Sun, with Sharolyn making faces at the camera, can you send me the file so I can post it here?)

Sharolyn's the one holding the puppy with her tongue out. Someone commented on this photo on Facebook: "I guess that's one way to clean your puppy, Sharolyn." Her adorable response: "Well apes sit around picking bugs out of each other's fur and then eat it. Other animals lick each other. Guess it's just their way of showing their love (or saying, "boy do you ever stink!")."

A few years ago during the downturn of the economy, my younger sister Rachel was out of work and needed something part time to work with her school schedule. Our friend Melinda had been talking to Sharolyn about how she (Sharolyn) had just started a business and needed some help with some of the administrative aspects of it. Melinda suggested Rachel for the position, and it was a match made in heaven. They not only became co-workers but very closely-knit friends. When Sharolyn had an airline buddy pass to go to Puerto Rico, she took Rachel. Rachel was over at Sharolyn's house daily, keeping the business going. In Sharolyn's final days, Rachel was one of the people to help her get her life in order before the cancer overtook her.

The last time I spoke with Sharolyn was a couple months ago. Her hair was extremely short (but finally growing after the chemo!), and she was looking thin, and you could tell that words were sometimes difficult. We talked about her treatments, her puppies, how good she had been to my sister as an employee... It wasn't anything deep or philosophical, and I didn't know it would be the last time I would see her, but for me, that's ok.

I surely did not realize those five years ago that that vivacious Relief Society president would have such a quiet yet profound impact on my life or especially on my sister. It's people like Sharolyn that deserve that tippy-top spot in heaven with a harp (or grand piano!) on a cloud.

Sharolyn, you will most definitely be missed.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The moment when...

You know when you find yourself in a heavy situation and you want out? That grasping-at-straws, can't-keep-your-head-above-water type of feeling that hangs over you with its grimy, gloomy fingers?

Cue Monday evening where I found myself in a 3-hour Administrative Theory class (theory--whoo!), filled with self-doubt and many much feelings of inadequacy on the heels of thoughts like, "I swear I did the reading for this class...why am I struggling to understand what this professor is talking about??" When I got home, I should have just climbed into my cozy bed to shake off the day, but instead I decided to work on the reading for the next day's Environmental Policy and Sustainability class...

Thoughts: "Five articles...this can't be that bad...I did this all the time in undergrad."

And then began the trudging through subjects such as eco-terrorism, one's effect on the common-pool resources, policy about the environment based on different philosophies (boring just reading the description, eh?)...

Ice cream.

More reading.

Eyes drooping. Words blurring together. Almost crying.

And then that little niggling thought in the muck of all that was my brain activity: "It's not too late to throw in the towel on this whole silly grad school thing..."

Hitting a wall. Falling from grace. Squandering in a rut.

Don't worry, people, only 15 more weeks of school!

Then cue Tuesday evening as I booked it up to campus again, determined to keep on this grad school path but feeling less-than-confident (understatement alert!).

And as I was sitting in my Environmental Policy class, furiously taking notes and poring over the articles I've underlined and scribbled notes on, a little light bulb took its place above my head--metaphorically, of course--and intelligent thought entered my brain.

I took a deep breath, raised my hand, and made a comment in the class discussion.

My professor (who, as a side note, is also the chair of the entire MPA program) nodded encouragingly and spoke one beautiful word: "Exactly."


I know it was just a tiny little incident, but it gave me the much-needed boost to keep on keepin' on here, folks. I feel like the Tin Man on the Wizard of Oz who keeps hollering for oil because he's so rusty. Six years is a long time to put between school endeavors, so getting back into the swing of things, finding a routine, working out a's going to take some effort and time. Lots of good thoughts of affirmation. Some long walks of contemplation. Frozen yogurt just about daily. You're gonna make it, kid.